Rainbow dal

If I ever ask my family what they fancy for dinner, more often than not the answer is dal. Ever since our time living in India, it has become a firm favourite for all of us. And we’re not the only ones as the page with my simple dal recipe (find it here) is one of the most frequently visited on the website.

As you have probably gathered by now, I love a bit of rainbow eating. Adding a variety of colourful vegetables to dishes can increase their micro and phytonutrient properties enormously. And dal is the perfect base for a rainbow make-over, so it just had to happen!

Just changing from white to red onion improves the phytonutrient profile, as the red pigment contains anthocyanins. These tiny chemicals help support cell functions and act as anti-oxidants, neutralising free radical activity. Essentially, they contribute to supporting our health. There are a huge number of different types of anthocyanins, and as with all phytonutrients they work best together as a team, hence why whole-foods are always the best option.

Sweet potatoes and spinach contains their own variety of micro and phytonutrients too, as does turmeric, tomato and the curry leaves. In fact this rainbow dal really is a veritable smorgasbord of pigments! Add in the fab fibre content and this dish really is one that will make both your taste-buds and your body buzz with joy!

The most important thing about this rainbow dal, though, is that it tastes gorgeous! Adding the extra vegetable gives it more body and texture, so all the senses are cared for. Serve it with a good dollop of dairy-free yoghurt and some steamed wholegrain rice and it will fill the hungriest of stomachs too.

So next time you’re cooking up a dal, bring a bit more rainbow power to the dinner table and give this one a go. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Enjoy!

Rainbow dal – serves 4
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 medium tomatoes
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato
10-12 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
225g yellow split peas
750ml water
150g spinach
for the tempering:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 dried red chillis and/or 2 fresh red chillis sliced lengthways
2cm piece of ginger thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander

Chop the onion and tomatoes, finely chop the garlic. Peel and dice the sweet potato.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan until bubbling then add the onion. Lower the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the chopped tomato, curry leaves and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the sweet potato. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the ground tumeric, lentils or yellow split peas and a good pinch of salt. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes then add the water. Pop on the saucepan lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the water is absorbed, the sweet potato soft and the dal is thick and sumptuous. Add the spinach leaves and cook for another couple of minutes until wilted.

Heat a small non-stick pan and add the cumin and black mustard seeds. Once the seeds start to pop and release their aromas (about 1 1/2 minutes), turn off the heat and add the dried red chillis and ginger. Shake the pan and let them cook in the residual pan heat. After a couple of minutes, tip the tempering into the dal, stir well to combine and heat through gently.

Finally, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the fresh chopped coriander then serve.

Getting the most from your greens plus a quick curry

I have a big pile of food-related books to read, each with a different focus and all fascinating. Currently, I’m working my way through ‘How Not To Die’ by the wonderful Dr Michael Gregor, who has a head full of knowledge, a bag-load of common sense and a fabulously dry sense of humour  (plus lots of bowel humour – it’s a nurse thing!).

Dr Gregor does an amazing job of examining all the latest research about food and health, questioning the validity of the conclusions and providing clarity for anyone interested in eating good food – that is, food that is good for you! His website – nutritionfacts.org – is packed full of 5 minute videos covering all sorts of topics, checking the facts behind the headlines and challenging spurious claims found in newspaper headlines and on-line. There is so much confusions out there, it’s hard to identify the ‘truth’!

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of cruciferous vegetables, wonderful produce like broccoli, cabbage of all sorts, cauliflower, kale and watercress. Dr Gregor is too and regularly refers to research findings about how the sulphur-containing compounds found within these veggies can promote good health, particularly in preventing and even treating some types of cancer, supporting the immune system and liver function (there’s many others too). Broccoli has been researched the most, but all cruciferous veggies contain the beneficial phytonutrient sulforaphane. But there is a potential problem in accessing it – for sulforaphane to become available, it needs to be activated by another chemical reaction involving an enzyme (myrosinase). This occurs once the broccoli or other cruciferous veg is cut or bitten into. All ok so far. The problem is how we tend to eat this group of veggies – cooked. Heat kills myrosinase – and no myrosinase, no magical sulforaphane. But who really likes to eat lots of raw broccoli? I know I’m not keen!

Fortunately, there is something you can use to overcome this problem – patience! Sulforaphane is heat resistant, so cooking is not an issue, you just need time for it to form. So to get the most magic out of your broccoli, just chop it and leave for 30 minutes or so before you cook it. This gives plenty of time for all the enzymes to do their business and create lots of this wonderful phytonutrient that your body will just love. It does mean you have to plan ahead a little, but if you’re cooking other things as well, just remember to chop the broc first, then get on with the rest of it. Then you can cook it however you like, although please don’t boil the life out of it, especially if you are using food to manage a health problem, as there are other wonderful nutrients inside that will suffer. Also, if you’re trying to persuade your kids to eat veg, serving up soggy offerings is not going to help (remembering granny’s over-cooked Christmas sprouts!).

So try to remember to give your greens time to brew to get the most out of them – you won’t notice the benefit, but your body will. Here’s a quick curry recipe featuring brilliant broccoli to try out this weekend. Packed full of flavour and amazing nutrients, eating well never tasted so good!

Broccoli and squash curry (serves 4)

1 head of broccoli
1 medium onion
1 large clove garlic
2cm chunk ginger, peeled
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 small squash
½ teaspoon turmeric
½-1 teaspoon red chilli powder (depending on heat requirements)
salt and pepper
fresh coriander

First, rinse the broccoli and chop of the stems and dice. Chop the broccoli heads into small pieces and put to one side to allow the phytonutrients do their thing.

Roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger then place in a small blender and blitz into a paste with a little water. Wash and peel the squash. Chop into small chunks/bite sized pieces.

Place a pan on a medium heat and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Dry toast them for a couple of minutes until they release a lovely aroma and start to pop. Take the pan off the heat for a moment and stir in the paste mix (if the pan is too hot it will burn). Pop the pan back on the heat, turning it down a bit, and sauté for a few minutes until the paste starts to lightly brown. Stir in the spices with a little water and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the chopped squash and broccoli stems along with some salt and pepper and stir well. Add about 50ml of water, bring to the boil, then pop on a lid and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft. If the mix is dry, add a little more water along with the broccoli heads and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the broccoli is lightly cooked through (I still like it with a bit of bite). Turn off the heat and garnish with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with dairy-free yoghurt, rice or whole-wheat chapatti.

 

 

Sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry

Veggie curries are always on the menu in our house. They can be super quick and easy to make as well as full of rainbow plant based ingredients packed with nutrients and flavour. They are also perfect for using up veggie odds and ends that you don’t know what else to do with, thereby cutting down on food waste. And of course they are easy to make dairy and gluten free.

Whilst in India, I learnt some top tips about prepping for curries that made life easier, as there can be rather a lot of peeling and chopping. That’s where a small blender comes in handy for getting ingredients like onion, ginger and garlic ready – a quick peel, a couple of rough chops, a little tip into the blender pot and a few whizzes later you have a fine dice ready to cook. If you add a little water, you can also create your own paste, cutting out the need for any oil if you want to go oil free too. And as the veggies are prepped small, they don’t take as long to cook, saving you time.  It also makes the sauce smoother, especially useful if you have someone in the house fussy about lumpy bits!

I also discovered asafoetida in India, otherwise known as Hing (which is much easier to say and spell!). This is another India spice commonly used in veggie dishes that has a very pungent and savoury flavour. In fact, if you take a sniff of the pot, it may put you off. But in cooking, it mellows out and adds a depth to the taste of your dish. You can buy it in most larger supermarkets or local Indian stores. And you only need a little, so a pot lasts a long time. It’s really worth a try.

Asafoetida aids the digestive system, as does ginger and cumin, also part of this dish. Add that with the anti-inflammatory properties and general fabulousness of turmeric, this dish is not only wonderfully tasty, but can help the body heal too. That’s even before the impressive phytonutrients found in the sweet potatoes and spinach are looked at.

So why not give this rainbow curry a go one evening and let the flavour soothe your tastebuds and the magic within soothe your body!

Sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry (serves 4)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 inch piece fresh ginger
a pinch of asafoetida/hing
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
400g tin chickpeas rinsed and drained
400g tin chopped tomatoes
200g spinach, washed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste.

Peel the onion, garlic and ginger. Chop a couple of times and put in the bowl of a small food processor. Wash the chilli, deseed and chop a couple of times then put in the pot. Blitz for a few seconds until chopped into tiny pieces.

Heat a large pan on a medium heat and sprinkle the asafoetida on the bottom for a minute until you smell the pungent aroma. Add a little oil or water then tip in the blitzed veg. Sauté for a few minutes until soft and starting to brown – don’t let it burn or the garlic will be bitter. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and simmer for a couple of minutes, then stir in the sweet potato and cover with the tomato sauce. Add a little extra water if needed, but not too much as you want a dryish curry. Turn down the heat, pop on the lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer again for another 10 minutes until the sweet potato is cooked. Stir in the spinach, pop the lid back on and simmer for another couple of minutes until the spinach is fully wilted and incorporated.

Season with salt and pepper as needed and serve with some steamed brown rice or chapattis. Enjoy!

Steve’s Saturday night squash curry

As much as I love cooking, it’s always a treat when someone else does it for a change. Because of work and travel commitments, my hubby Steve doesn’t get many opportunities to get creative in the kitchen, so when he offers to cook it’s always a treat, especially as I was out all day yesterday, so it was a real relief to come home and be served with a piping hot dinner.

Steve does what I call ‘man’s cooking’ – lots of ingredients all prepped before hand (often with lots of washing up!), loud music and always a beer on the go. Not that this is a criticism, just a little observation – whatever is needed to maximise the cooking experience (although the number of beers could potentially be directly linked to the outcome of the dish – “hic!”).

Having lived in India and spent time in South Africa, Steve has picked up a few tricks and makes a mean veggie curry, all dairy free of course. Aware of my veg box blogging challenge, he did check what I had planned to make – a sweet mama squash and chickpea curry – so now I’m writing about his version of what I had planned in my head!

Squash and chickpeas go together really well in terms of flavour, texture and nutrition. I’ve already talked about what nutritional powerhouses they are (Thursday stuffed squash and Friday’s pancakes), as well as fabulous sources of fibre that your gut will love. They also both work wonderfully with spices, and complement each other superbly.

Of course, spices add more than just colour and flavour to a dish; they contain amazing healing properties that have been used for thousands of years, but science is only just beginning to understand how.

Cumin, for example Turmeric has long been used for it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties, but the active ingredient – curcumin – has only recently been identified and researched. It seems that the amazing properties in turmeric can help relieve all sorts of ailments from period problems, to IBS, to joint pain to cancer. In fact, there is so much to say about turmeric, there’s no way enough room here, so let’s just say it’s amazing and should be included in your diet as much as possible!

Steve likes the base of his curry sauces to cook down over a period of time to concentrate the flavours; this doesn’t take that much longer, but really does deepen the flavour.

There are a couple of interloper ingredients again, but from the veg box he used an onion, two of the carrots and the second half of the sweet mama squash. There was (and still is!) loads, so this recipe feeds a hungry crew easily.

Play around with the spices to get the heat level you desire – I’ve only given approximations here, as I’m not really too sure exactly how much was put in! Needless to say, it was super tasty, and all the more special as I didn’t have to cook!

Steve’s Saturday night squash curry
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 red chilli, chopped
3-4 tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder/garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
water
1/2 sweet mama squash cut into smallish chunks
2 carrots, diced
1 courgette, diced
1/3 small cauliflower, chopped (optional)
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and cook the onion for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and chill and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and let it cook down for a few minutes. Stir in the spices and add some water to make a thick sauce. Cook down on a low heat, adding a bit more water for 15 minutes or so until the flavours have developed.
Add the squash and carrot chunks, covering them well with the sauce, adding a little more water to almost cover. Pop on a lid, bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 -10 minutes until the veg begin to soften. Add in the courgette, cauliflower and chickpeas and simmer until all the veg are soft and the sauce has thickened up nicely. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with popadoms and steamed brown rice.

Curry comfort

Our time living in Indian widened our horizons in many ways. Food wise, we discovered a cornucopia of different South Indian ‘curries’ most of which we had never come across before in the UK. Most curry houses in the UK serve North Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani routed food, adapted to the British taste (lots of sauce!). These dishes tend to be rich, tomato based, heavy with cream and featuring meat. South Indian food consists of a huge amount of vegetarian dishes, many enhanced with coconut, either milk or freshly ground, making them rich but not heavy.

Coconut is a regular ingredient on my blog – I love it, not only for it’s wonderful creamy taste, but it’s amazing health benefits. Coconut meat and milk are high in fat, there’s no getting away from it, but the fat is medium-chain saturated fats which research shows is actually health promoting rather than detrimental like many saturated animal fats. And of course, being plant based, it contains no cholesterol, a fact my friend was surprised about when I told her. Placed on a cholesterol reducing diet by her GP (better than being given statins that’s for sure), it was on the list of food to avoid due to  it’s high cholesterol content. In fact the oil in coconut helps improve a person’s cholesterol, increasing healthy HDL cholesterol.

Lauric acid is one of the main fatty acids in coconut; this converts to other compounds in the body and had an array of beneficial effects including acting as an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and if eaten as coconut meat, the fibre promotes these properties, contributing to a healthy gut.

I love to make vegetable Malabar curry on a cold and windy day as there’s just something so warming and comforting about it. Rich and flavoursome, I feel wrapped in a soothing warmth. Malabar curries come from the Kerala area, often as a fish curry. Although truly Indian, it has Chinese roots and developed along the coast. The warm, comforting element comes from the inclusion of a mixture of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, all medicinal herbs in their own right. Cloves have an anti-inflammatory effect as well as a mild anaesthetic (oil of cloves for toothache), cinnamon has compounds that aid digestion and help reduce muscle spasm (amongst other effects) and cardamon is sometimes used as an anti-depressant.

Make this super healthy by using red, orange and green vegetables, packed full of nutrients and anti-oxidants to keep the winter bugs at bay. And of course by using coconut, it’s completely dairy free.
Although there is a long list of ingredients in this recipe, it’s actually pretty easy to make. You can buy a malabar curry mix from your local Indian store, but be careful, as these can contain a large amount of salt. It’s pretty easy to make your own, so I make it fresh each time. Serve this up on a blustery evening with a warm roti or pile of steamed rice (brown of course!) and let yourself be enveloped with a soothing warmth which, with any luck, will transport your mind, if not your body, to warmer climes.

Vegetable Malabar Curry<
Spice mix:2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves
4 cardamon pods
Vegetable mix:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 spring curry leaves
Asafoetida – pinch (miss if you can’t find it)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 onions chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, pureed
1 cup chopped carrot or sweet potato
1 cup green veg (beans, broccoli)
couple of handfuls sweetcorn or peas
1 tin coconut milk
up to 1 cup warm water
fresh coriander to garnish
First, make your spice mix. Bash the cardamon pods in a pestle and mortar to release the seeds. Grind seeds with the cloves until fine and mix in the cinnamon.

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the mustard seed, asafoetida and curry leaves until the seeds splutter. Add the onion and ginger and cook until the onion is soft. Pour in the pureed tomatoes and a pinch of salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the chilli powder, turmeric, spice mix, vegetables and mix well to coat. Pour in the water and simmer with the lid on until the vegetables are cooked.
Turn off the heat and pour in the coconut milk. Stir well and heat on a low flame for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed, sprinkle the fresh coriander over the top, and enjoy

Cheesy peas – dairy free (Matar Paneer)

One of the first curries my children took to was Matar Paneer – or cheesy peas as we called them. It’s fairly sweet, not too spicy with two clearly recognisable ingredients – cheese and peas. It was something the children could really identify and enjoy.

Our local curry house made a beautiful matar paneer; once I embarked on my dairy free quest, it was a matter of watching the others devour this delicious dish with it’s rich creamy sauce – no more cheesy peas for me, or so I thought!

Matar paneer is one of those dishes that has been seriously anglo-philed. During our time in India, I realised that the Indian version has a much deeper, richer flavour than the one on offer at our local Tandoori, with very little sauce and definitely no cream. In fact this was one of the main differences we found between Indian and English curries – the Brits do like a lot of sauce!

Apart from the cheese and the peas, one of the key ingredients for matar paneer is ghee, or clarified butter. Theoretically it’s dairy free; the protein and lactose molecules are separated from the fat itself in the clarifying process. But modern manufacturing methods have altered the quality and purity of mass produced ghee. I’ve certainly ended up with a migraine after inadvertently consuming it, so I tend to steer clear, which is a shame, as the ghee gives the dish a rich, luxuriant flavour.

For the cheese, I use extra firm tofu, well squeezed. This was easier in India as you could actually buy tofu paneer, it’s texture and taste pretty close to the real thing. I’ve not seen this back in the UK. To make tofu suitable for frying, you need to remove it from it’s packet and drain away the fluid. Place some kitchen roll on a plate, put the tofu block on top and cover it with more kitchen roll. Then put another plate on the top with some kind of weight – a jam jar for example – and leave in the fridge for a few hours. If your tofu is really wet, you may want to change the kitchen roll after a couple of hours. And use a large plate on the bottom otherwise tofu water drips everywhere!! You should end up with firm, dryish tofu ready to fry.

Vegetable oil replaces ghee – you need to heat the pan up pretty high before popping in the tofu to brown (another reason for getting rid of excess water). Leave it in the pan long enough to get a firm crispiness before turning it, as this adds to the texture of the dish. I tend to use much less oil than many recipes or restaurants – having a dish served with a puddle of fat lying on top just puts me off!

Dairy Free Matar Paneer
225g pack of extra firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped
200g peas, fresh or frozen
salt
chillis or chilli powder**
5cm fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
fresh coriander (to serve)
Make sure your tofu is drained and pressed (as above). Heat the oil in a pan and fry the tofu on all sides until brown and crispy. Remove from the pan and put to one side whilst you fry the onion until soft and slightly browned – you may need to add a little more oil and/or turn the heat down a bit. Then add about 5 tablespoons or so of hot water and a pinch of salt and the peas. Stir well, turn down the heat, pop on a lid and cook for 5 minutes until the peas are nearly cooked. Add the browned tofu, ginger and ground coriander and simmer for a few minutes, stirring gently. Add a little more water if you want a saucier dish. Stir in the garam masala and fresh coriander, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve with warm chapati or roti and enjoy!

** Chilli. You can use fresh chillis or chilli powder for this dish. I haven’t put an amount as it depends on how spicy you want it to be. I tend to use one medium sized fresh green chilli or a flat teaspoon of chilli powder. This gives it flavour without much kick. Use more, or less, according to your taste – you can always add more if necessary

Channa masala – dairy free and delicious!

One of the main benefits of living in India was of course picking up top tips on how to make a good curry. Before we left for Bangalore, I had eaten channa masala from an English curry house, but it was buttery and the spices harsh. I’ve since realised that harsh spices are uncooked ones, and a good channa masala can be dairy free and gorgeous!

In case you’re wondering, channa is my old favourite, chickpeas! Known a garbanzo beans in the US, this fabulous pulse is so worth incorporating into your diet wherever you can as they are incredible little nuggets of nutrition. For a start, they are a great source of protein, not complete as the essential amino acid histadine is missing, but when combined with wholegrain rice or flour pack a serious protein punch. On top of that, they have loads of fibre, so not only help to keep you full for long, but can aid in reducing cholesterol levels as well as promote a healthy gut.Chickpeas are also a great source of folate, particularly important for women of child-bearing age, iron, phosphorous, zinc and manganese, which is essential for energy production in the body. They are low in fat but still have essential fatty acids and contain other nutritional necessities such as potassium, vitamin C, calcium and other B vitamins to name a few.

From a financial point of view, chickpeas are also pretty cheap, certainly as a protein source (much more affordable than meat!). Canned are more convenient than dried, although this convenience carries a cost; financially they are more, environmentally there’s the can and nutritionally up to 45% of the folate is lost in the canning process. But then sometimes there’s just not time to soak and cook, even with a pressure cooker at hand!

My channa masala recipe is not really traditional, as it contains more than just chickpeas, tomatoes and spices. As my family will always tell you, I like to add in some extra veg in everything, especially something green!

So top tips for cooking this channa masala are:

* blend the onion, garlic and ginger into a puree before cooking – this gives a smooth sauce and reduces the amount of oil you need and reduces the chance of burning
* add the spices once the onion mix is cooked, stirring well for a minute to help them cook
* add the chickpeas near the end so they don’t over cook – the flavour is in the sauce, not the pulses
* use your nose as well as your tongue to tell when the spices are cooked – the pungent, harsh aroma softens when cooked.

So that’s about it – here’s the recipe. The spice amounts are a guideline only – use less or more depending on how flavoursome you like your curry. Serve with brown basmati rice or wholemeal roti and enjoy!

Channa masala
1 onion roughly cut
3 cloves garlic
1-2 inch cube fresh ginger
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 chilli diced – red or green, its up to you
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt
2 carrots cut into small chunks
400g tin chopped tomatoes
400g tin chickpeas or 1 cup soaked and cooked
spinach or chard, chopped
Put the onion, garlic and ginger into a food processor and whizz until finely chopped/pureed. It becomes pretty smooth and watery. Then heat the oil or water in a pan and add the whole seeds, stirring occasionally. Once they start to pop, reduce the heat and add the onion mixture, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Cook for about five minutes until the fluid starts to reduce, then stir in the other ground spices and salt (I use about 1/2 teaspoon) and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add the chilli and carrot, covering them with the mixture, then pour in the tinned tomatoes, mixing well, adding a little water to wash out the tin. Your mixture should be a thick stew, not too watery but not too dry. Once boiling, reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes or so. Taste to check the flavour and if the harshness has gone, add the chickpeas and cook for 5 minutes, then add the chard or spinach and cook for a couple of minutes more. The curry should now taste rich and delicious, so serve it up and enjoy!

Vegetable coconut stew

Living in South India is a food adventure; there are so many types of dishes, snacks, fruits and vegetables that I’ve never seen or heard about before. In particular, there’s a whole array of breakfast dishes that I love and eat any time of the day, which may be frowned upon by my Indian friends, but I still struggle with the concept of curry for breakfast! It’s very different to coco pops or toast.

One of my favourites is a vegetable stew, a fantastic vegan dish, which hails from Kerala, so of course it contains my number one ingredient – coconut. It’s not spicy but has a wonderful subtle flavour that still warms the tummy and tempts the tongue. It’s also unusual to have such a white stew with the colours of the vegetable just coming through. I think it looks lovely although I have a friend who it just upsets – he thinks it looks all wrong!! Traditionally it’s served with appams, a type of pancake made from rice and coconut. Preparing the appam mixture is a long process that involves lots of soaking, grinding and fermenting – even the ready made mixture requires 10 hours of soaking so I’ve only ever eaten them in a restaurant, not made them at home. It’s a shame they’re so complicated though, as they are really delicious to taste. Cooked in a small pan, it’s shaped like a bowl which then holds the stew.

Instead of appams, I serve the stew with rice, which still tastes great but has a different texture/taste combination.  I used to cook white rice, just because it seemed quicker and there’s always more choice on the supermarket shelves. Brown rice has a bad image; historically only eaten by the poor and more recently by bowel obsessed hippies. But the thing is, the poor and hippies were definitely getting the better deal. Nutritionally, white rice has the same carbohydrate and calorie content, but that’s as far as the similarities go. Brown rice retains the bran and germ layers – these contain the minerals and vitamins which would be used by the starchy endosperm beneath if left to grow. White rice has both these layers removed and is then polished, which removes the bran oil. This is good at reducing LDL fats. Plus these layers contain most of the nutritious goodies such as vitamin B1, B3,B6,  iron, selenium and magnesium. White rice stores better than brown, but that really is it’s main advantage other than cooking quickly. Eating it actually uses up the body’s stores of vitamins and minerals rather than replenishing them.

I now buy organic brown basmati rice and soak it before I want to cook it. It takes a little more planning but cooking is then fairly easy.You need a minimum of 30 minutes soaking. This can leach out the nutritious goodies though, so the best thing to do is quickly rinse the rice under a running tap, then place in a bowl and add the water – one cup of rice, 2 cups of water. Once you’re ready to cook, pour the rice and water altogether into the saucepan, put on the lid and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. Most of the nutrients in the water will then be absorbed back in to the rice as it cooks. With the lid on, the water goes in to the rice rather than be evaporated and once it’s all absorbed, it should be ready to eat – slightly firm and nutty.

Vegetable coconut stew recipe – serves 4 (or 3 if there’s 2 hungry boys nearby!)1 tsp oil
2 – 4 green cardamom pods, depending on how much you like the flavour
cinnamon stick
1 sliced onion
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
Green chillies, sliced – this will determine your heat (see below)
2 potatoes
1 –  2 carrots
big handful green beans
peas or sweetcorn (optional)
1 sprig curry leaves
approx 200 mls coconut milk
ground pepper – white if you have it
salt
water
To be super duper healthy, scrub the potato and carrot and boil them until nearly cooked. Steam the green beans. Retain the cooking water from both. Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
Heat the oil and fry the cardamom pods and cinnamon until the aromas are released then add the onion, ginger and chilli and cook until softened. Add in the cooked vegetables and fry for a few more minutes so they absorb the flavours in the pan (you can put in raw veg at this point and fry, then cook, but I find the coconut milk splits and spoils, hence why I cook them first). Add peas and/or sweetcorn if you’re using them and pour in some of the retained vegetable water, curry leaves and stir in most of the coconut milk so you have a fairly fluid stew. Leave to simmer for 5 minutes or so, but watch it so the milk doesn’t split. Add in the pepper, a pinch of salt and finish with the last of the coconut milk so it’s lovely and white.

Interesting facts about green chillis:
I like a mild chilli flavour, but am not at all a fan of a strong, burn-the-lining-of-your-mouth sensation that you can get with some. The problem is you never know quite how strong a chilli is going to be. Obviously there are different types of chillis, and ones like the birds eye chilli is known to be a head blower. So it’s really down to taste and pot luck how much chilli you put in a dish. For this one, I used two as my son was eating and does not like a spicy flavour – just sliced down the middle and the seeds removed, leaving 4 halves to permeate their flavour through the stew.
Chillis are actually remarkably good for you, being high in beta carotene, vitamins B, C (six times more than an orange) and E as well as iron and potassium.  The active chemical, capsaicin, that gives chillis their heat has many health benefits including dissolving blood clots, treating wrinkles and facial twitching and can burn calories by increasing your metabolism. It also releases endorphins that can relieve pain and put you in a good mood – it’s an active ingredient of some arthritis treatments and creams.
So next time your mouth is on fire, your nose running and steam is coming out of your ears, remember it’s good for you and enjoy!!!